Friday Things Considered: The Daffodils Edition

This weekend I’ll be celebrating Easter with family and friends.  We should have a break in the rain which means there will be a chance to point out the pink dogwood and white wisteria in bloom.  Alas, the five hundred daffodils we planted in December are almost gone.  I’m sorry they won’t be here to trumpet the triumph of spring.  But they’ll be back I’m told.  That’s the beauty of daffodils.

Also, deer don’t like them.  They don’t appeal to gophers.  And the foxes and wild turkeys seem to leave them alone as well. Which means they’re perfect for our garden on the edge of open space.  We planted eleven different varieties of daffodils  (poets would call some jonquils, others paper whites or narcissus)–specifically Avalanche, Barrett Browning, Carlton, Cornish King, Ice Follies, Las Vegas, Ma Bell, Merels Favourite, Pink Charm, Pipet, and Thalia. They all had staggered bloom times.  But on those weeks where they were pretty much all in bloom, every time I opened the front door it felt like I was being serenaded with the Hallelujah Chorus.  (Did you know that Handel’s “Messiah” was originally performed in April?)

Daffodils belong to the genus narcissus which gets its name from the Greek god Narcissus.  According to legend, Narcissus was so taken with the image of himself as he gazed into a river that he drowned trying to capture his reflection.  The reflected image of daffodils growing along stream banks inspired the association with Narcissus.

We planted them along the dry stream bed in our garden where except for a few exceptionally rainy days no treacherous reflections are cast.  We planted them on a sunny day in December when my family had just started to gather for Christmas.  Though the sun was out it was still cold and it took some gumption to get out there and plant All Those Bulbs (we put 100 tulip bulbs in the back pots safely out of reach from the deer as well.) But once we got started the work was pretty easy and fun.  And boy was there a big payoff.  I’m thinking this will be an annual Christmas tradition.  Some daffodils will return but to ensure we always have plenty I’ll want to plant more.

Here you can see our daughter Claire planting daffodils  (now that they’ve bloomed, I’m thinking the elegant white on white Thalia?) near the leafless variegated dogwood draped with Christmas garland.

And here’s the rest of the planting crew — our pregnant daughter-in-law Lori, Claire, landscaper Keeyla Meadows, son Will and M.J. Right after we planted the bulbs we scurried off to a matinee performance of The Christmas Revels that happened to feature a daffodil as a magical symbol of healing and rebirth!

It’s an act of faith to plant anything but especially homely little bulbs in the dead of winter.  But look what our faith hath wrought!

Predominantly white daffodils surround the dry creek above.  Here’s another shot with Lori–by March her pregnancy was very much in bloom!
Yellow on yellow daffodils like Las Vegas and Carlton are clustered near other yellow foliage on the dry creek side of the driveway.
On the other side of the driveway, Pink Charm daffodils fill in the side garden (and some of the painted pots in the back, see above)  which tends to have pink and red blooming flowers during the summer. A signal of what’s to come.
Some of the first to bloom were the orange centered Barrett Browning daffodils near the open space. Named after poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, these were some of my favorites.
Delicate little Pipets bloomed later in the pots by the front door.  Their color coordinated nicely with the new green foliage on the potted maples.
For more on the history and meaning of daffodils check here and here.  Here’s hoping your Passover and Easter week has been filled with spring blooms that delight and renew.

Happy Weekend All!

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Design at the Movies – Chaise Lounge Awards 2017

The Academy Awards happen this weekend and so it’s time once again to celebrate my favorite design elements in last year’s movies.  Of those films nominated for Best Production Design I’m pulling for Hail Caesar! and its giddy rendition of ‘50s LA.  But I suspect the Technicolor toss-up will go to La La Land.

If I were handing out awards, here are a few things I am Loving about last year’s set designs.

Best (and Worst) Bachelor Pads – Dev Patel’s ocean view apartment provided a perfect perch to search the world to find his roots.  By contrast, Casey Affleck’s basement digs in Manchester by the Sea offered no relief from his past.

Best Hideout – The elegant Georgian mansions offered more than Love & Friendship to Kate Beckinsale.

Deadliest Kitchen –Despite all its up-to-date trappings there was no heart to Rosamund Pike’s Gone Girl home.

Hippy-est Hut – Viggo Mortensen’s forest dwelling in Captain Fantastic was a survivalist’s paradise.

Best Contemporary Castle – The Camelot-era White House was a shining spot in Jackie. 

Best Dreams Do Come True House – Emma Stone’s Chateau Marmont bungalow provides a clear signal that she’s made it big in La La Land.

Best Slipcover – Proving once again that money can’t buy you love, this nothing-out-of-the-ordinary chenille blanket provided the perfect backdrop for the happy marriage in Loving.

Best Music Room —The eclectic mishmash of Meryl Streep’s apartment hit all the right notes in Florence Foster Jenkins. 

And now, the Grand Chaise—the one with the leopard print velvet slipcover—is awarded to The Place I Wish I Called Home: 

All my finalists offer water front views from spare structures.  I fancied the quiet Japanese dwellings in Silence and the modern Commie clubhouse in Hail Caesar! But the place that spoke my design language best was Amy Adams’s down-to-earth lakeside retreat in Arrival.


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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Hope you’re spending it with people you love doing things you love. MJ has a teaching commitment tonight so I made Valentine cookies for him to share with his students and we frosted them together after enjoying a pre-Valentine’s dinner out.  Note that I spread the frosting to the edges.  He tried to leave a neat little border of unfrosted cookie.  Probably tells you something about each of us.  But even more telling is that we both frosted the cookies in our own preferred way and didn’t care a bit if the other frosted their cookies differently.  That’s a good thing about having been married for thirty-seven years.  We can see each others’ differences and (mostly) not let them totally bug us!

If you’re busy frosting cookies or doing something else that is amenable to podcast listening you might enjoy Krista Tippett’s interview with philosopher and writer Alain de Botton about love and relationships. This is on the heels of him having written the most downloaded essay in the New York Time’s last year about Why You Will Marry The Wrong Person.  Grateful I ended up with the person who’s wrong for me in all the right ways.

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Kitty Cat Hats

Perhaps some of you are participating in the Women’s Marches being held around the country this weekend.  If so, you might be wondering just what to wear.  Many women will be sporting pink knit hats, otherwise known as “pussy hats.”  I’m blushing a little just writing that out–which may be why it took me so long to track down the pattern and get started on a hat for myself.

I’d seen a few women in my circles posting photos of the hats and yesterday with a holiday in front of me I decided to knit one for myself to wear in Oakland this weekend. And maybe for my two daughters who will be marching down much colder streets in Boston and Manhattan.  I looked up a few patterns both at the official Pussy Hat Project site and on the knitting site Ravelry and called around to see what yarn shops in my area were open.

Turned out the closest ones were pretty much sold out of pink worsted or bulky weight (thicker, therefore faster to knit) yarn.  But a yarn shop in a further out suburb said they had plenty so I drove out to find this table filled with beautiful yarns in shades of fuschia, rose, watermelon, strawberry, blush and  burgundy.  A half-dozen women were fingering the wool and cotton skeins as they shopped for materials to make their own Pussy Hats and happily chatted about where they would be marching.   Made me look forward to spending time with the other women (and men) at the march on Saturday.

I sent some images to my daughters who said they preferred a solid dark pink worsted weight yarn as did a young activist knitter friend I was shopping for. Fortunately, the store had just restocked this particular wool/mohair blend. I selected a subtly variegated yarn magenta bulky-weight hand-dyed wool for myself, figuring if I really plow through two hats early in the week I’ll need an especially fast-knit yarn to have mine ready in time. By the end of the day I had completed the simple rectangle necessary to make the hat.  Thinking some of you marching knitters out there might want to create one too, here are a few notes to help you along the way.

I’m an experienced, if infrequent, knitter but the pattern really is simple enough for a beginner.  It’s basically a seventeen inch rectangle with four inches of ribbing on each end that is then stitched together.  When worn the middle of the top collapses and the pointy ends look like kitty cat ears.  I knit the worsted weight on a size 8 needle and it took about an hour to do the first four inches of ribbing, another two+ to knit the stockingnette portion of the hat, and a fourth hour to knit the last four inches of ribbing on the other side and sew up the hat.  So, give or take, a four hour project.

It was pleasant to work on as the sun went down in the living room while listening to a podcast–Patty Smith talking with Alec Baldwin on “Here’s The Thing”–and then later watching the sobering documentary “13th” for MLK Day.  It would be even more pleasant to do it over the course of a few days so start now if you can.  Happy Protest Knitting!

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New Year, New Intentions

Happy New Year!  Hope the dust (or indoor carpet of pine needles) has settled and you’re now thinking about what the new year holds for you.  As usual, this time of year, I’ve been both taking stock and looking ahead.  One of the things I try to do in January is choose a word that will guide my actions for the year.  A few months ago I decided that I wanted to choose something that would help me be less critical and more helpful.  The first word that came to mind was “magnanimity” but that’s just a mouthful and also seemed like I was the queen of something.  Which I’m not.  Unless you count my capacity to stack half-read newspapers, books and magazines around my night table and then, well, I rule.

I also thought about the word “generous” but again that felt like I was queening it over others.  The word “kindness” nibbled at me but it seemed too sweet, too much like a generic Hallmark card. Then a friend told me that the Dalai Lama says kindness is his religion and it seemed to have a little more gravitas.  And I checked out an online thesaurus for like words and found these: charity, decency, graciousness, solicitude, humanity, understanding, tolerance and even magnanimity.  One of the best synonyms was “fellow feeling.”  That’s a friendly (though complicated) intention I’d like to pursue.

My runner-up word is kindle.  It shares the same root word as kindness but compels me to action. Here’s hoping I can kindle the best in myself and others this year.  All through practicing kindness.

How about you?  Have you set any words for the year? If you’d like help doing so, I recommend signing up for  Susannah Conway’s free Find Your Word course.  You might also like to see what other folks have selected for their words over at One Word 365.  Turns out the other two members of my Kindness tribe are in Mount Holly, North Carolina and Knoxville, Tennessee.  Places I’ve never been, but I have no doubt there are kind folks there, too.

Hope to see more of you in the New Year!


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Glad Tidings

May you find peace, good will and much wonder this holiday season.

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“I wanted to see a woman lead the great nation, so my own spine could be straighter this blustery sunny morning.” Hilary Mantel

The unthinkable—at least from inside my bright blue bubble—has happened and now Donald Trump is going to be our next president.  As you may recall I was am a Hillary fan girl.  A week ago I put on my suffragist whites and drove to my local polling place to turn in my ballot. As well as MJ’s. Because when he’d offered to drop mine off earlier that morning I’d said no, that this was an historic day and even though we’d filled out absentee ballots in advance I was going to go to a polling place in person and vote for the first woman president!

I went out to lunch with my sister to celebrate.  We ordered the dessert sampler because it was a day to pull out all the stops.  Both of my girls called and we happily chatted about the election night parties they were either throwing or attending that night.  MJ had a class to teach so I settled in by myself to watch the results. But since it wasn’t even dusk here in California I decided I’d catch up on Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend until the news called it for Hillary.  The ultimate Girls Night In.

Then my phone started pinging. “What the heck is going on with this election?” texted my sister, coming as close to swearing as a good Mormon girl can come.  “Is this the way elections always go?” from my son who was voting in a presidential election for the first time.  “YOUR DAUGHTERS ARE NOT IN A GOOD PLACE RIGHT NOW,” from one daughter.  “Apparently I know nothing,” from the other referencing our earlier conversation where she’d blithely said she wasn’t worried at all about the election outcome.

I quickly turned over to the news coverage and saw that, indeed, very few of the people I regularly read or listen to knew anything about how 47.5% of Americans who voted would vote.

The morning after the election I was as dazed and disoriented as Barron Trump had appeared when his father accepted the presidency. I forced myself to attend a demonstration about decorating with materials foraged from wild spaces.  But first I consoled the woman who comes every other week to clean my house about the possibility of her husband being deported, his papers filled out but never filed, or maybe even her daughter who was born here in America.  At the demonstration, tearful women cautiously sidled up to each other trying not to offend those in the group who might also be quietly celebrating that day.  Everyone cheered when I won one of the raffled floral arrangements—a crown-like succulent sitting on top of a black and white vase.

The rest of the week I kvetched and commiserated and sought out chagrined experts analyzing what went wrong.  I read about country vs. city folk and thought of the boarded up main street of my hometown in Idaho.  I teared up at the earnestness of  “Leslie Knope” when she loses an elementary school election to a cartoon character named Dr. Farts.  I  agreed that Trump had superior storytelling strategies (even if I hated the tales he told) and realized that though I supported Hillary, I couldn’t find a message in her campaign that would comfortably fit on a ball cap—which is, according to filmmaker Michael Moore, what this election was all about.

I know people who voted for Trump.  I’m related to some of them.  One chided me the night before the election for posting a selfie in a Hillary t-shirt. “You were raised better than this.” Others are friends that are some of the kindest, most generous people I know.  It remains a mystery to me how they can compartmentalize Trump’s misogynistic, xenophobic, bigoted statements the way they do.  But then, they probably think I’m just as blind when it comes to Hillary’s foibles.  And yet, if we’re in the business of weighing sins, I can see no parity.  And if we’re going to use a separate scale to judge competency and  experience, in my mind there’s no contest.

But those calculations are in the past—and now what do we do going forward?  I’m starting with small acts of kindness like welcoming an older woman who moved in next door, writing a yelp review for my El Salvadoran handyman, and sending money to charities that work to protect our planet and support refugee and womens’ rights. I’m keeping my ears and eyes open for larger ways to contribute from my clearly privileged perch. All the while noting the beauty that continues to manifest even in the darkest times—dogwood leaves glowing red against the blue November sky, pockets of orange pyracantha berries revealing themselves along the freeways, an amber super moon rising above the greening hills.

This past Sunday I drove down to Lake Merritt—a heart-shaped lagoon in the middle of Oakland—and stood with thousands of mourners as we clapped and held hands and sang “Imagine” on a beautiful fall day when it seemed like nothing bad could ever happen in this world. Kumbaya! Hallelujah! As I returned to my car a family carrying a large American flag walked ahead of me.  The father held his young son’s hand as his daughter skipped a few steps behind, the red and white stripes flowing over her. We’d all done what we could that day to give peace a chance.

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Happy Halloween!

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Making a Difference with DIFFA 2016

For Bay Area readers, the holiday party season kicks off with a festive fundraiser supporting the UCSF Positive Health Program and DIFFA (Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS).  Funds raised help care for men, women and children with HIV/AIDS in San Francisco.

In the past, DIFFA has sponsored a gala evening showcasing tableware displays. This year, however, the fundraiser consists of a silent auction of one-of-a-kind home decor objects created by some of the local design community’s brightest lights.   Held at The NWBLK in Mission Gulch on Wednesday,October 12, the auction will feature unusual works like the mirror-polished brass-topped “Shine” table above by Oakland’s MRCW Design Build.

Another illuminating item coming out of the East Bay is the Inanna Pendant Light by Erin McGuinness. Made of clay, this pendant light serves as a metaphor for the sculptor’s creative process.

Other shiny objects up for auction have been designed by Bay Area design luminaries Martha Angus and Gary Hutton and design establishments Arterra Landscape Architects, BaDesigns, BCJ and Gensler.

Sure to be a dazzling evening.  For tickets go to

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Ever Green Design

I’ve written about a number of eco-friendly homes over the years but this beautiful remodel by architect Sherry Williamson has to be one of the most stylish.  You can read more about the overall project in the current (October 2016) issue of Diablo Magazine, but I’m sharing a few photos here along with some ideas for how to create your own “healthy home.”

Marin County-based Williamson oversaw this elegantly spare design.  It demonstrates an extraordinary commitment to practices and products that are both good for the environment and create a healthy environment for the homeowners and their young family.  Williamson and the rest of the design team including Andrew Mann Architecture, McCutcheon Construction and Scott Lewis Landscape Associates made sure that every detail was as environmentally friendly and health-conscious as possible.

“Bringing the team up to speed on the level of green (which exceeded LEED in many areas) was probably the biggest challenge with this project. It really was a great opportunity to investigate the materials in all of the building materials and in the furnishings,” says Williamson.  “When confronted with a challenge, we didn’t say ‘no’ that’s not possible. We asked how can we get what we are looking for in perhaps a new way? We were open to new materials and ideas.”

If you, too, are open to new ideas in green design take a look at these terrific suggestions from Williamson for creating our own healthy homes.


- Find low or no-VOC finishes for wood or wall paints.  Many companies offer these now and avoid the toxic mildewcides and biocides in paint. Try Auro USA or ECOS Paint or Benjamin Moore’s Aura.

- Select stone carefully. Some granite and other stone countertops are radioactive!  You can ask most stone suppliers and they’ll guide you away from those likely to be radioactive (or you can have someone measure a stone with special equipment) but different batches can vary from a quarry.

- Avoid sealants on stone or grout. This family of products seems to contain a lot of harmful chemicals and no good options were found. The stone countertops in this house are all unsealed.

- Consider Aerogel insulation. This is a ‘space-age’ batt insulation material used by NASA as it protects very efficiently even in a very thin layer. Not always easy to obtain—but it was used for this project where we needed to have high insulation values and there was limited space.

Appliances + Fixtures

- Ask about BPA and other plastics used in common appliances like refrigerators. Some appliances utilize more costly stainless steel components that are durable and non-toxic. Miele seems to be a leader in cleaner products while SubZero told us they still used BPA in their refrigerator drawers when we inquired during this project. See more on BPA below under Household.

- Replace old toilets that use lots of water with efficient new ones that use less water. We used the Kohler Santa Rosa at 1.28 gallons per flush.

- Install a water filtration system for the drinking water. Many are available and remove the chlorine and other chemicals in standard city drinking water.


- Ask questions when you buy upholstered furniture. Some companies will be happy to provide information (Cisco for instance), while others are unable or don’t want to provide any details.

- Avoid ‘stain resistant’ applications for fabrics that most manufacturers and installers offer – like ScotchGuard, GoreTex or Teflon. Most stain resistant products are made up of PFC’s (like PFOA or PFOS) chemical compounds that are not proven healthy – many companies won’t divulge the ingredients – See articles here and here.

- Select all-wool carpeting with natural latex backing or antique wool area rugs. These clean easily with warm water. And avoid chemical backings on wall to wall carpets that can off-gas for months or years, creating unhealthy indoor air quality.

- Use carpet pad without off-gassing chemicals and no PVC like Ultimate Slide-Stop (or called GripTex) by American Fiber Cushion for large area rugs

- Buy a non-toxic mattress and pillows – many mattresses use foams with unknown ingredients, like memory foam and you sleep on this every night.  Find a company that lists ALL ingredients in their mattresses and pillows like European Sleepworks in Berkeley! They are one of the first to produce organic mattresses and they have their fabrics certified through OEcotex.


- Use simple cleaning products – not ones with complex and toxic ingredients – and avoid harsh cleaning products that can also damage the finishes on sinks, faucets, tubs, toilets, countertops, etc.

- Avoid plastic food containers like sports bottles and plastic toys – store food in glass, use stainless steel dishes for reusable picnic ware – even BPA-free (bisphenol A) plastics are not the solution as BPA has been replaced with similar chemicals that are still untested and are believed to be harmful to humans (BPS is used now, and next in line could be Bisphenols AF, BPK, C, DK, F, G, M, PH, TMC and Z).  See articles here and here.

- Use stainless steel or cast iron or enameled cookware – avoid stick-resistant finishes and aluminum pans.

All photographs by David Wakely


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Kathryn Pritchett

writes about Things Elemental — where we find shelter, why we connect, what sustains us and how we strut our stuff.